Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

A fresh start at Parkland

Students return to high-tech overhaul

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Benjamin T. OuYang, acting principal of Parkland Middle School for Aerospace Technology, chats with magnet program coordinator Donna Blaney on Friday morning.
The acting principal of Parkland Middle School for Aerospace Technology hopes the school’s brand-new facility and high-tech features will not only teach students the concepts they need to know, but also foster a life-long love of learning.

Benjamin T. OuYang, who joined Parkland over the summer, welcomed students to the new building on the first day of school on Monday.

‘‘I want Parkland to continue to be a place where kids love to learn, where they have a great opportunity to really expand and develop academically and emotionally — the confidence of learning,” OuYang said. ‘‘I want them to feel safe — safe to take academic risks, safe to grow and challenge themselves in an academic environment that’s really conducive to learning.”

Following a two-year renovation, the 44-year-old building has been modernized from top to bottom and outfitted with state-of-the-art technology.

Part of the original school, which dates back to 1963, was razed, and a new two-story classroom wing was added.

According to press releases issued by Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the new facility is about 10,000 square feet larger than the original and cost about $31.4 million.

In addition to the school’s shiny new look, OuYang said he is excited about the building’s wealth of new technology. OuYang, formerly an assistant principal at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, came on board as acting principal following the departure of Kevin Hobbs, who is now principal of Watkins Mill High School in Montgomery Village.

‘‘I think what may separate this school from perhaps others is that we have the latest technology,” he said.

OuYang, a 40-year-old resident of Gaithersburg, said that technology includes such advances as Promethean Activboards, which are wall-mounted whiteboards that help lessons come alive. A wireless mouse-pen writes like a pen on the board, but also acts like a computer mouse in that it can click on and manipulate items on the screen. Using Activote, a device shaped like a large egg with buttons, students can answer questions with the push of a lettered button and teachers can immediately see feedback and graph the data on the screen.

‘‘So immediately the teacher knows whether their students have grasped the materials, checking for understanding,” he said. ‘‘There is great potential in that — they can really have active learning here and I think that’s probably the neatest thing to me. I mean, every school’s neat and every school has wonderful opportunities, but to have that in a classroom — we’re very, very blessed to have that.”

Parkland is just one of the county middle schools receiving Activclassrooms technology this year. Parkland is slated to have 39 of the interactive white boards by October.

According to a press release issued by MCPS Monday morning, the school system plans to begin implementing a three-year, $10 million effort to outfit other county middle schools with similar technology this year.

‘‘We want to make middle schools more engaging for our students,” Superintendent Jerry D. Weast states in the press release. ‘‘This will be accomplished in part by drawing in technology that students often use in their lives outside school, and tying it into the curriculum.”

The superintendent made a stop at Parkland Monday morning.

OuYang said he also envisions the school as ‘‘a gem of the community,” a place that he hopes the surrounding neighborhoods will take pride in. On Thursday evening, the school will host homecoming celebration of sorts for students, parents, staff and the community, complete with tours of the new facility, food and entertainment.

‘‘People literally throughout all summer long have tried to come in here and look at the building and that’s why we’re doing a welcome-home celebration because we really, really want to have this school be part of the community,” OuYang said. ‘‘But for the children’s sake, we’re really sending a strong message that we’ve spent a lot of money to see that they get the best education possible.”

He said Parkland, including its magnet program, is earning a reputation for its high standards of academic excellence.

‘‘A couple of years ago, it seemed as if people would do anything not to have their child come here it seems, or I hear that,” OuYang said.

‘‘Now, I’ve got kids from 50 elementary schools coming here,” he added. ‘‘So I want it to continue to be a place where kids love to learn.”

Parkland is largely a new school since 2005 when it joined A. Mario Loiederman Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts in Wheaton and Argyle Middle School for Information Technology in Layhill to form a magnet consortium. Students from the Rockville, Aspen Hill, Wheaton and Bethesda-Chevy Chase areas can attend any of the schools.

OuYang noted that the school also has partnerships with the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, the Federal Aviation Administration, Lockheed Martin and Johns Hopkins University’s applied physics lab.

OuYang hopes to encourage and inspire Parkland’s students to take advantage of all the resources at their disposal.

‘‘I’m doing one of the most important things — I’m giving them an opportunity to be successful,” OuYang said while testing the capabilities of a classroom’s Activboard. ‘‘Over 50 percent of our students are free or reduced lunch right now — education is their ticket to success in life, and so I’m trying to show them that. So, yeah, it’s a tough job, but the rewards are incredible.”

Speaking animatedly while giving a tour of the new building on Friday, OuYang finally came to a stop inside Parkland’s gym, which is part of the building’s original structure. Standing in the center of the gym’s basketball court, he said he believes in hard work and determination. After all, his own father was a ‘‘poor peasant from Mainland China” who came to this country knowing no English and eventually became a doctor.

Gazing up on the wall, he read aloud from a banner emblazoned with the school’s motto: ‘‘Respectful of the learning environment ... responsible for our actions ... ready to learn ... and soar!”

‘‘Parkland pride is so important,” OuYang said. ‘‘It’s important for kids to know that you can achieve anything through education and hard work.

If you go

Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology’s Welcome Home Celebration is set for Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the school, 4610 West Frankfort Drive in Aspen Hill. The event will feature entertainment, food and tours of the newly renovated school.